“Finding One Pearl of High Value”
“The kingdom of the heavens is the goal toward which men press, and those pressing forward are seizing it.”—MATTHEW 11:12.
1, 2. (a) What rare quality did Jesus portray in one of his Kingdom parables? (b) What did Jesus say in the parable of the pearl of great price?
IS THERE something that you value so highly that you would give everything you own or sacrifice all that you have in order to gain possession of it? Though people speak about dedication in their pursuit of some goal—money, fame, power, or position—it is rare that a person comes across something so very desirable that he is willing to give up everything for it. Jesus Christ referred to this rare but admirable quality in one of his many thought-provoking parables about the Kingdom of God.
2 It is a parable, or illustration, that Jesus told his disciples in private, one often referred to as the parable of the pearl of great price. This is what Jesus said: “The kingdom of the heavens is like a traveling merchant seeking fine pearls. Upon finding one pearl of high value, away he went and promptly sold all the things he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:36, 45, 46) What did Jesus want his listeners to learn from this illustration? And how can we benefit from Jesus’ words?
High Value of Pearls
3. Why were fine pearls so valuable in ancient times?
3 From antiquity, pearls have been valued as ornamental objects. One source observes that according to the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder, pearls occupied the “topmost rank among all things of price.” Unlike gold, silver, or many gemstones, pearls are produced by living things. It is well-known that certain types of oysters can turn irritants—small fragments of stone, for instance—into lustrous pearls by enveloping them in layers of a secretion known as nacre. In ancient times, the finest pearls were harvested mainly from the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean—far from the land of Israel. This is no doubt the reason that Jesus spoke of “a traveling merchant seeking fine pearls.” To find truly valuable pearls, a great deal of effort is involved.
4. What is the central lesson of Jesus’ parable of the traveling merchant?
4 Even though fine pearls have long commanded high prices, it is evidently not their monetary value that constituted the central lesson of Jesus’ parable. In this parable, Jesus did not simply liken the Kingdom of God to a pearl of high value; he called attention to “a traveling merchant seeking fine pearls” and to his response upon finding one. Unlike an ordinary shopkeeper, a traveling pearl merchant, or dealer, was what might be called a connoisseur in the trade, one who had the keen eye or the sensibility needed to discern the aesthetic qualities and subtleties that mark a pearl as extraordinary. He would know the genuine article when he saw it and would not be fooled by inferior or counterfeit merchandise.
5, 6. (a) What is particularly noteworthy about the merchant in Jesus’ parable? (b) The parable of the hidden treasure reveals what about the traveling merchant?
5 Something else about this particular merchant is worthy of note. A common merchant might first figure out the market value of the pearl so as to determine how much he would pay for it in order to make a profit. He might also consider if there was a market for such a pearl so that he could sell it quickly. In other words, he would be interested in making a quick return on his investment, not in owning the pearl. But not so with the merchant in Jesus’ parable. His interest was not monetary or material. In fact, he was willing to sacrifice “all the things he had”—possibly all his personal belongings and properties—in order to acquire what he had been searching for.
6 In the eyes of most merchants, what that man in Jesus’ parable did was probably unwise. An astute businessman would not think of undertaking such a risky venture. But the merchant in Jesus’ parable had a different sense of values. His reward was, not any financial advantage, but the joy and satisfaction of possessing something of surpassing value. This point is made clear in a parallel illustration that Jesus gave. He said: “The kingdom of the heavens is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid; and for the joy he has he goes and sells what things he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44) Yes, the joy that comes from discovering and owning the treasure was enough to move the man to give up everything he had. Are there individuals like that today? Is there a treasure worth such a sacrifice?
Those Who Appreciated the High Value
7. How did Jesus show that he keenly appreciated the high value of the Kingdom?
7 In telling his parable, Jesus was talking about “the kingdom of the heavens.” He himself certainly appreciated the high value of the Kingdom. The Gospel accounts bear powerful testimony to that fact. After his baptism in 29 C.E., Jesus “commenced preaching and saying: ‘Repent, you people, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.’” For three and a half years, he taught multitudes about the Kingdom. He traversed the length and breadth of the land, “journeying from city to city and from village to village, preaching and declaring the good news of the kingdom of God.”—Matthew 4:17; Luke 8:1.
8. What did Jesus do to demonstrate what the Kingdom will accomplish?
8 By performing numerous miracles throughout the land—including healing the sick, feeding the hungry, subduing the elements, even raising the dead—Jesus also demonstrated what God’s Kingdom will accomplish. (Matthew 14:14-21; Mark 4:37-39; Luke 7:11-17) Finally, he proved his loyalty to God and to the Kingdom by giving his life, dying a martyr’s death on a torture stake. Just as that traveling merchant willingly gave everything he had for the “pearl of high value,” Jesus lived and died for the Kingdom.—John 18:37.
9. What rare quality was seen among Jesus’ early disciples?
9 Not only did Jesus focus his own life on the Kingdom but he also gathered together a small band of followers. These too were individuals who keenly appreciated the high value of the Kingdom. Among them was Andrew, who was originally a disciple of John the Baptizer. Upon hearing John’s testimony that Jesus was “the Lamb of God,” Andrew and another of John’s disciples, most likely one of the sons of Zebedee also named John, were immediately drawn to Jesus and became believers. But matters did not stop there. Right away, Andrew went to his brother Simon and told him: “We have found the Messiah.” In quick order, Simon (who became known as Cephas, or Peter) as well as Philip and his friend Nathanael also came to recognize Jesus as the Messiah. In fact, Nathanael was moved to say to Jesus: “You are the Son of God, you are King of Israel.”—John 1:35-49.
Stirred to Action
10. How did the disciples respond when Jesus came and called them some time after his first encounter with them?
10 The excitement experienced by Andrew, Peter, John, and the others when they discovered the Messiah might be compared to that experienced by the traveling merchant when he found the pearl of high value. What would they do now? The Gospels do not tell us much about what they did immediately after this first encounter with Jesus. Apparently, most of them returned to their normal course of life. From about six months to a year later, however, Jesus once again came upon Andrew, Peter, John, and John’s brother James at their fishing business by the Sea of Galilee.* Seeing them, Jesus said: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” What was their response? About Peter and Andrew, Matthew’s account says: “At once abandoning the nets, they followed him.” As for James and John, we read: “At once leaving the boat and their father, they followed him.” Luke’s account adds that they “abandoned everything and followed him.”—Matthew 4:18-22; Luke 5:1-11.
11. What likely accounts for the disciples’ prompt response to Jesus’ call?
11 Was the disciples’ prompt response a spur-of-the-moment decision? Hardly! Even though they did return to their family fishing business after their first contact with Jesus, there is no doubt that what they had seen and heard on that occasion left a deep impression on their heart and mind. The passing of nearly a year would have allowed them plenty of time to reflect on such matters. Now the moment of decision had come. Would they be like the traveling merchant whose heart was so stirred by the discovery of the priceless pearl that, as Jesus described it, “away he went and promptly” did what he must to buy that pearl? Yes. What they had seen and heard stirred their heart. They recognized that the time for action had come. Thus, as the accounts tell us, without hesitation they gave up everything and became Jesus’ followers.
12, 13. (a) In what way did many who heard Jesus respond? (b) What did Jesus say about his faithful disciples, and what do his words imply?
12 How different these faithful ones were from some others mentioned later in the Gospel accounts! Many were the ones who were cured or fed by Jesus but who simply went about their own business. (Luke 17:17, 18; John 6:26) Some even begged off when Jesus invited them to become his followers. (Luke 9:59-62) In sharp contrast, concerning the faithful ones, Jesus later said: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of the heavens is the goal toward which men press, and those pressing forward are seizing it.”—Matthew 11:12.
13 “Press” and “pressing forward”—what do these terms imply? With regard to the Greek verb from which these expressions are derived, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says: “The verb suggests forceful endeavour.” And regarding this verse, Bible scholar Heinrich Meyer states: “In this way is described that eager, irresistible striving and struggling after the approaching Messianic kingdom . . . So eager and energetic (no longer calm and expectant) is the interest in regard to the kingdom.” Like the traveling merchant, these few individuals quickly recognized what was truly precious, and they willingly gave up all they had for the sake of the Kingdom.—Matthew 19:27, 28; Philippians 3:8.
Others Joined the Search
14. How did Jesus prepare the apostles for the Kingdom-preaching work, and what was the result?
14 As Jesus continued in his ministry, he trained and helped others to reach out for the Kingdom. First, he selected 12 from among his disciples and designated them as apostles, or ones sent forth by him. To these, Jesus gave detailed instructions on how they were to carry out their ministry as well as warnings about the challenges and hardships that lay ahead. (Matthew 10:1-42; Luke 6:12-16) For the next two years or so, they accompanied Jesus on his preaching tours throughout the land, enjoying a close relationship with him. They heard his sayings, witnessed his powerful works, and saw his personal example. (Matthew 13:16, 17) All of this no doubt touched them deeply, so much so that like the traveling merchant, they were zealous and wholehearted in their pursuit of the Kingdom.
15. What did Jesus say was the real reason his followers had for rejoicing?
15 In addition to the 12 apostles, Jesus “designated seventy others and sent them forth by twos in advance of him into every city and place to which he himself was going to come.” He also told them about the trials and hardships ahead and instructed them to tell people: “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” (Luke 10:1-12) When the 70 returned, they were overjoyed and gave Jesus this report: “Lord, even the demons are made subject to us by the use of your name.” But perhaps to their surprise, Jesus revealed that an even greater joy was in store for them because of their zeal for the Kingdom. He told them: “Do not rejoice over this, that the spirits are made subject to you, but rejoice because your names have been inscribed in the heavens.”—Luke 10:17, 20.
16, 17. (a) What did Jesus tell his faithful apostles on the last night he was with them? (b) What joy and assurance did Jesus’ words bring to the apostles?
16 Finally, on the last night that Jesus was with the apostles, Nisan 14, 33 C.E., he instituted what came to be known as the Lord’s Evening Meal and commanded them to commemorate the event. In the course of the evening, Jesus told the 11 who remained: “You are the ones that have stuck with me in my trials; and I make a covenant with you, just as my Father has made a covenant with me, for a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.”—Luke 22:19, 20, 28-30.
17 What joy and satisfaction must have filled their heart when the apostles heard those words from Jesus! They were being offered the highest honor and privilege that any human could have. (Matthew 7:13, 14; 1 Peter 2:9) Like that traveling merchant, they had given up much to follow Jesus in pursuit of the Kingdom. Now they were assured that the sacrifices they had made thus far had not been in vain.
18. Who besides the 11 apostles would also eventually benefit from the Kingdom?
18 The apostles present with Jesus that night were not the only ones to benefit from the Kingdom. It was Jehovah’s will that a total of 144,000 be taken into the Kingdom covenant as corulers with Jesus Christ in the glorious heavenly Kingdom. In addition, the apostle John saw in vision “a great crowd, which no man was able to number, . . . standing before the throne and before the Lamb, . . . saying: ‘Salvation we owe to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” These are the earthly subjects of the Kingdom.*—Revelation 7:9, 10; 14:1, 4.
19, 20. (a) What opportunity is open to people of all the nations? (b) What question will be considered in the next article?
19 Shortly before Jesus ascended to heaven, he commanded his faithful followers: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 28:19, 20) Thus, people out of all nations would come to be disciples of Jesus Christ. These too would set their heart on the Kingdom—whether for a heavenly or for an earthly reward—as the traveling merchant did with regard to the fine pearl.
20 Jesus’ words indicated that the task of disciple-making would be extended all the way to “the conclusion of the system of things.” So in our day, are there still individuals like the traveling merchant, who are willing to give their all in the pursuit of God’s Kingdom? This question will be considered in the next article.
John, the son of Zebedee, might have followed Jesus and witnessed some of the things he did after their first meeting, thus enabling John to record them so vividly in his Gospel account. (John, chapters 2-5) Nonetheless, he did return to his family fishing business for some time before Jesus called him.
For more details, see chapter 10 of the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Can You Explain?
• What is the central lesson of the parable of the traveling merchant?
• How did Jesus show his keen appreciation for the high value of the Kingdom?
• What caused Andrew, Peter, John, and others to respond immediately when Jesus called them?
• What marvelous opportunity lies before people of all the nations?
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‘They abandoned everything and followed Jesus’
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Before ascending to heaven, Jesus commanded his followers to make disciples